Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 16.05.2012

In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel

UK Immigration Minister Damian Green blames wrong type of wind for chaos at Heathrow

The Independent

Emergency plans to hire 70 more staff at troubled Heathrow were announced by the Immigration Minister yesterday as he acknowledged that the huge queues at the airport may be damaging Britain’s reputation abroad.

Damian Green also risked ridicule when he told MPs that the length of time non-European passengers waited to have their passports checked could depend on the direction in which the wind was blowing at the time.

He was speaking as the airport operator BAA took a swipe at the Government, protesting that the delays at immigration controls had worsened over the last two years.

David Cameron has urged his ministers to “get a grip” on the disruption at Heathrow, which has left travellers waiting up to three hours to be admitted into the country.

After Cabinet talks yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman admitted it would take “some time” to improve the efficiency of the Border Force, but insisted resources would be found to cope with the influx of visitors to the London Olympics.

Mr Green told the Commons home affairs select committee yesterday that the extra 70 staff were to be recruited by September to cover for immigration officers taking leave after the end of the London Olympics.

Ministers had intended to appoint the officers in 2014, when building work on Heathrow’s Terminal 2 is due to be completed, but the plans have been rushed forward to cope with foreign students arriving in Britain for the new academic year.

Mr Green said: “We have brought forward the first wave of recruitment for the reopening of Terminal 2 to give the border force even more flexibility to secure the border while dealing with record passenger numbers at Heathrow.”

The committee chairman, Keith Vaz, told him that UK airports received poor ratings from travellers compared with international competitors and asked whether Britain was suffering “reputational damage” as a result of Heathrow’s problems. Mr Green replied: “It’s a worry for the Government.”

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Mont Saint-Michel’s lost causeway stirs local passions

The Guardian

Plans aimed at preserving the maritime character of the French coastal landmark have divided politicians and shopkeepers.

In preparation for the tourist season, two dray horses and their drivers go back and forth along the causeway to Mont Saint-Michel. It is a practice run and the cart is carrying two large water-tanks, instead of live passengers.

Since the end of last month visitors – who number 2.4 million annually – are forbidden to use their own cars to reach the mount. Now, the only way to cross the almost 2km causeway is on foot or by motorised or horse-drawn shuttle.

Ever since a project was launched in 1995 to restore the mount’s “maritime character”, there have been delays, controversies and quarrels between local councillors on the board of the public-private partnership (PPP) and central government. The Socialist (PS) leader of the Basse-Normandie regional council and chair of the PPP heading the redevelopment project, Laurent Beauvais, finds the setbacks an irritant.

Most of these mishaps have been due to the sensitive nature of the operation, a mixture of caution because of the site’s international renown – the preparatory studies alone took 10 years – and the vigilance of those who have a stake in the mount, its immediate surroundings and its religious significance. Coach companies had to be placated, discussions with cyclists held and local shopkeepers unhappy about the changes to the area had to be mollified. “I understand our past difficulties,” Beauvais says. “Governance with several parties is complicated and this great project is loaded with symbols, passion and religious fervour.”

The outstanding controversy centres on the new causeway that will connect with a bridge to the mount. This will allow emergency access almost all year round. Both Les Amis du Mont Saint-Michel and the PPP are against the scheme. “What’s the point in demolishing the existing causeway then building such an eyesore, a mass of concrete which will wreck the view with its parapet,” says Henry Decaëns, a lecturer-guide and chair of the Friends organisation. He has called for a study into the use of amphibious vehicles to be made.

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Virgin trials cooking oil at Aussie airport

Virgin Australia has begun a trial using fuel made from cooking oil at Brisbane Airport.

In a first for an Australian airline, it will use environmentally-friendly biodiesel in its ground service equipment for the next eight weeks.

Last month, a Qantas flight between Sydney and Adelaide trialled a 50-50 mix of conventional fuel and refined cooking oil.

The Virgin trial involves using a biodiesel blend derived from locally sourced tallow and used cooking oil in a baggage tug and a push-back vehicle at the domestic airport.

The biodiesel used in the trial is produced by Ecotech Biodiesel at a facility in Narangba, Queensland and provides a range of environmental benefits including reduced carbon and soot emissions.

Another Australian company, Refuelling Solutions, is providing logistical support and storage during the trial.

Virgin Australia’s group executive of operations Sean Donohue said the biodiesel trial encouraged the development of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel sourced from our region.

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Hanoi Sofitel hotel to open air raid shelter to tourists

USA Today

Hanoi’s luxurious Sofitel hotel plans to open the secret, war-time bunker to tourists on May 21, Vietnam’s English-language VietnamNet Bridge reports.

The bunker – discovered last year at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi – is believed to be an air raid shelter created during the war where American folk singer Joan Baez once took shelter during the Christmas Bombings in 1972.

The bunker has been preserved in its primitive state, which you can see from the many photos VietnamNet Bridgeincludes with its story.

Surprise discovery

About a year ago while laying foundation for a new bar on the hotel’s pool lounge area, construction workers discovered the opening to the trench, the story says. After digging down about seven feet, they drilled into what turned out to be a thick concrete ceiling.

“They found an old wine bottle, still-intact light bulbs, air ducts, graffiti and eerie echoes of a war that ended almost four decades ago,” VietnamNet‘s report says.

The story quotes Kai Speth, who in March became the landmark hotel’s general manager:”In the hotel’s history, there is a story of the American folk singer, Joan Baez, who sought shelter in this bunker during the Christmas Bombings in 1972, and who sang some songs beside a Vietnamese guitarist. We don’t know of any other hotels, in Vietnam or anywhere else for that matter, that maintained a shelter for guests and staff.”

Hotel historian Andreas Augustin, of the Most Famous Hotels in the World, plans to train six Vietnamese guides to lead tourists through the bunker, the article says.

The hotel has invited various people who once sought shelter in the bunker for an opening ceremony, according to VietnamNet’s report.

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